‘1883’ Delivers Devastating Emotional Tour de Force in Season Finale [Spoiler Alert]
1883 brings its long, hard journey to an end in Episode 10 of the first season, which began streaming on Paramount+ on Sunday morning (Feb. 27). After Episode 9's extraordinary drama, fans are clamoring to know who dies, and the answer is ... well, almost everybody, actually.
Yes, Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) really does die to finish out the season, in one of the most emotionally wrenching deaths to grace the small screen in recent memory. But she's scarcely the only character to die; in fact, the vast majority of would-be settlers who started off on the wagon train journey West don't see the end of Episode 10, leaving just a scant handful of the principal characters to make it to Oregon after an arduous journey that made death a constant companion during the run of the season.
Episode 10 of 1883 begins with Elsa feverish after being shot with an arrow in Episode 9, and she's ruminating on the nature of death as the wagon train happens upon a fort, where they attempt to seek medical treatment before finding out that the entire area is controlled by the boss of the self-styled "deputies" Shea (Sam Elliott), Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) and James Dutton (Tim McGraw) killed in Episode 9. Trying to stay one step ahead, they decide they will press on North and winter in the valley, but the immigrants decide to stay at the fort before pressing on for Oregon without either James or Shea to lead them.
That decision proves fatal, as thieves attack what's left of the wagon train and kill every last one of the remaining travelers. That leaves the Dutton family, Shea, Thomas, Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi), her children and Josef (Marc Rissmann) and Risa (Anna Fiamora) left alive from those who set out from Texas together, but that doesn't last long, as Risa subsequently succumbs to her injuries and dies, while Josef loses part of his right leg after his snakebite.
An indigenous healing ceremony provides enough respite for Elsa to make a few days' journey to her final resting place, which she tells James she wants to choose. Sadly, that means Margaret (Faith Hill) and John (Audie Rick) won't be able to make the journey while confined to the wagon, and Hill plays her strongest scene of the season when Shea comes to tell her that, with Hill registering rage, grief and cold acceptance in a jumbled study of conflicting emotions.
While 1883 has been building toward Elsa's death since the flash-forward in the very first scene of Episode 1, it's still emotionally wrenching, as she and James come upon the spot where she chooses to spend her last moments. In a delirium, she tells him that she understands now and she's not afraid, and while her death is stunningly powerful, 1883 creator Taylor Sheridan somehow still manages to strike his trademark balance between tragedy and beauty in a scene that's worthy of the character's arc on the show. McGraw also gets the chance to shine in his best scene, as the hard-as-nails James Dutton breaks down and weeps uncontrollably as he holds his lifeless daughter in his arms.
But that's not quite the end. The last minutes of 1883 give fans the chance to see what happens to the rest of the characters they've become so emotionally invested in over the show's long journey. Flashing forward one year, we see Josef, now alone and on crutches, but still determined to stake his claim as a free man who is finally on his own land, while Thomas, Noemi and her boys also find their dream plot and start planning for their future home and life together.
Shea Brennan has basically said what his fate would be out loud all along the way during 1883, and it's only fitting that his journey comes to an end in the only way it really ever could have. He finally reaches the ocean at the end of Episode 10, and as he sits on the beach and stares out at the waves, he murmurs to his dead wife, "Just look at that, Helen. Isn't it beautiful?" And with that, the camera pulls away as a gunshot rings out and Shea fulfills what he's intended to do all along, ending his life on his own terms after fulfilling every obligation he took on at the beginning of the journey.
The truly extraordinary thing about the end of 1883's first season is that, while the deaths of Elsa and Shea are very difficult, Sheridan manages to present them in a way that focuses on the redemptive aspects of their lives. We get the sense not that Shea is dying tragically, but rather choosing the right path for himself, while Elsa seems as if she has, in Shea's words, "outlived us all" in her short years. In a final sequence, we see her reunited with Sam (Martin Sensmeier), spending eternity in what would surely be her vision of Heaven, riding the open range together forever.
While Episode 10 doesn't really leave any questions unanswered, more episodes of 1883 have been announced for the fall. What will the future bring for the Duttons in their new home in Montana? Only subsequent seasons can answer that question, and Taste of Country will be on board to cover every episode, every week.
Stay tuned to Taste of Country as we provide ongoing coverage of both Yellowstone and 1883, including episode analysis, news on the shows, cast interviews and more. As part of our comprehensive coverage, check out the Dutton Rules podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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